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Born in Havana, Cuba in 1922, Ramon Santamaria, lovingly known as Mongo was to Afro-Cuban music what Ted Williams was to baseball. Fans loved his playing and fellow musicians studied his bongo and conga technique. He traveled to New York in 1948 to find beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie incorporating Chano Pozo's Cuban folk music and bandleaders Mario Bauza and Machito presenting popular Cuban music to eager listeners. Rhino records collection of Mongo Santamaria's music from 1958-1995 is an overflowing two-disc retrospective on a long and prolific career. After repeated listens to this anthology I have yet to grasp the totality of Santamaria's career. From the pop hit "Watermelon Man" (written by Herbie Hancock) to his beautiful work with vibraphonist Cal Tjader, Mongo moves effortlessly between traditional Afro-Cuban, popular and jazz music. Recording before there was such a thing as World Music, or fusion for that matter, Mongo reminded me that record stores at one time separated the classical from all the rest. How else can you explain an Afro-Cuban version of James Brown's "Cold Sweat" or Gershwin's "Summertime?" As the Cha-Cha, Rumba, and Mambo fads come, go and return, Mongo has been there and continues to sprinkle his brand of Afro-Cuban music on jazz. This is a great overview of his career.
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